Good wrist action

Avoid machinery and use a whisk for perfect hollandaise; If Fanny was still with us, she wouldn't be seen dead doing it - and certainly not on television, in full view of her adoring public
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I think I have seen Richard Cawley do it on TV. Fellow chef Alistair Little has definitely done it there. Michael Barry does it, too, and calls it "crafty". I have done it once or twice and don't much like it. I don't think I have ever seen Rick Stein do it. I feel sure Graham Kerr never did it, because he didn't have the equipment. And, if Fanny was still with us, she wouldn't be seen dead doing it - and certainly not on telly, in full view of her adoring public.

If Fanny were to make an emulsion of eggs and butter, I'm sure she would, even now, take a packet of best Normandy and melt it, vigorously whisk some egg yolks over a low heat until thick, and then beat in the molten butter until glossy and gorgeous. She would sharpen it with lemon juice or a reduction of spiced vinegar, and then correct with a final seasoning. There, without any trouble at all, my darlings, we have our beautiful sauce hollandaise. Presented, of course, in her authoritative vocal tones, impeccable French pronunciation and spotless Hartnell gown - and most certainly without benefit of electrical machinery.

For those of you who don't remember Fanny, or even Graham Kerr in The Galloping Gourmet, neither of them had a food processor, but quite a lot of cooking and chopping was completed, none the less, in the allotted time - whisks came out and danced around a bit, and dishes emerged without the interruption of the infernal whizzing blade.

I still have the original small Magimix, and it works a treat. Marvellous for breadcrumbs, brandade, pesto, garlic, savoury butters and perfect hummus. But it makes filthy hollandaise. And the other nasty habit- using a whole egg to make "mayonnaise"- produces the sort of consistency that might move you to stick a paint-brush in it and start decorating the front room.

I find it quite extraordinary - baffling, even tragic - that the home cook remains terrified of making hollandaise sauce in the proper manner. Perhaps these demonstrations of how to make it using that machine remove the risk of error and failure, albeit misguidedly. It's easily emulsified into deep submission, but nobody ever says what is perfectly well-known - that doing it this way is not as good as the original method.

The processor, however speedy, will not produce that wobbly consistency of good butter suspended in hot beaten egg yolk, and it never will.

Now that there is so much televisual feasting, isn't it time that traditional lessons were given to provide insight into the actual business of cooking? I would rather see three perfectly prepared dishes cooked in half an hour than double that amount using short cuts and substitutes.

I must say I cannot think of a more terrifying ordeal than cooking on television, and I have deep respect for those that do. My views here, therefore, should be looked upon as those of a viewer and keen observer - and of a cook.

So here's my recipe for hollandaise sauce - the proper way, the only way. It's not difficult, and there's less washing up.

For really good hollandaise, it is worth investing in a medium-sized, stainless-steel pan that has a deepish, shallow bowl shape to it. This makes it easier to whisk the egg yolks without them getting stuck where the whisk can't reach - you run the risk of overcooking where the sides of a normal pan would meet the base. A thick base for the pan is also important as it helps insulate the yolks from too much direct heat. Never use an aluminium pan to make hollandaise - it will turn the sauce green.

To make enough for four generous servings to accompany, say, freshly poached wild salmon, first gently melt a packet of unsalted butter in a small milk pan (with pouring lips) - if you have one. Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat. Allow to settle for a few minutes and then lift off the froth with a tablespoon and discard, making sure that the clear butter remains undisturbed underneath. Place on the side of the stove to keep warm.

Put three large egg yolks in the stainless-steel pan and add a dessertspoonful of cold water. Using a thin and whippy wire whisk (avoid ones with thick, unwieldy wires), beat the yolks and water together briefly before placing over a very low flame. Continue whisking in a fluid circular motion until the mixture starts to lighten and become frothy. As you continue to beat, watch carefully as the yolks lose air and start to cook - gradually thickening, then becoming creamy and pale. Move the pan on and off the heat occasionally, to prevent over-cooking. The yolks are ready to receive the butter when they are thick enough to retain the distinct marks of the whisk. Remove from the heat and place on a work surface with a damp dishcloth under the pan (this keeps it steady as you pour in the butter with your other hand).

Continue whisking the egg yolks as you add the clear butter in a thin stream. Speed this up as the sauce gains body and becomes glossy and voluptuous. Just as you start to see the milky residue in the bottom of the pan about to join the last of the clear butter, you will also notice that the sauce has become very thick indeed. Add a touch of the milky residue now, just to loosen the sauce a little - about a dessertspoonful, no more. Squeeze the juice of about half a lemon, according to taste, and season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Pour into a warmed sauce boat - and be proud!!

Surprise surprise

Deepest apologies for missing out the 100g/312 oz of caster sugar to be creamed together with the butter and lemon rind in the recipe for Margaret Costa's Lemon Surprise Pudding in the edition of 22 March

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